In an Islamic judicial system that has been criticized as biased against women, two women have been cleared to hear the same cases as their male colleagues in sharia court. They will join the bench on Aug. 2.
Lai Seng Sin/AP
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Norhanum Yusof walks out of an Islamic courtroom, arm-in-arm with her sister. She has just been granted a divorce from her abusive husband, who didn’t show up for this hearing and who has ignored several court summons.
But it took two grueling years to annul the six-year marriage. Ms. Norhanum, who wears a black headscarf and a loose flowery dress, blames the sharia judge for cutting her ex-husband too much slack.
“If it was a female judge, then I would expect more sympathy for me,” she says.
Women in her position may soon get that. After years of debate, Malaysia’s government has appointed two female judges to the sharia courts, which operate in parallel with secular courts in this multifaith country. The women will join the bench on Aug. 2 and have been cleared to hear the same cases as their male colleagues, bringing a female perspective to a judicial system that has been criticized as biased against women.
In the Muslim world, there are sharp divisions over the role of women in the judiciary. Countries like Lebanon, Morocco, and Pakistan have appointed women to judge cases in secular and sharia courts. Neighboring Indonesia has scores of female judges. In contrast, Iran and Saudi Arabia insist that only men can sit in judgment in their courts.
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